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Brandon Smith | Sr. | Linebacker
Q. Talk about opening up the Big Ten on the road and what that's like for you guys from a team perspective?
BS: We're really excited to get into Big Ten play. Iowa is going to be a great environment for us to play in. Tough place to play obviously. They have had a lot of success at home the last few years. We're just going to have fun and do our process and work really hard this week to prepare for them, and just enjoy it and make the most out of it.
Q. We got to know you about a year ago this week, give or take. What has the past year been like for Brandon Smith and that whole kind of emergence into the defense?
BS: I've been enjoying it. It's been a fun ride and I'm glad that I've been able to step into a bigger role and contribute to our team on special teams, defense, in the locker room, whatever it is. Had a lot of fun this past year and looking forward to another season and starting with Iowa.
Q. Penn State's defense has not allowed just 14 points since 1996. That's a long time. Give me a general sense of what is different, be it in practices, around the team, since you've been here, and how does just carrying momentum like that help you from a confidence standpoint?
BS: Obviously two shutouts and the game against Pittsburgh where they scored a touchdown, if we can stop them from scoring, we're going to win a lot of football games.
We've just got a lot of guys playing confident right now and a lot of guys with a lot of playing time and experience. Like I've said a lot of times before, we're having a lot of fun this year. We know what we're capable of and we have a standard at Penn State that we're trying to reach every day in practice, every Saturday, even on our off-days, just in film study and things like that on our own time. We have a lot of guys buying into the process and doing the right things on and off the field right now.
A lot of talented guys, too, on our defense that are making really good plays, and knowing the D-Line might mess up, the linebackers are there to step in, or D-line is making great plays and making it easier on the linebackers.
We have a great secondary who are coming up with a lot of great plays right now, and Marcus Allen is a guy who has been making a lot of big-time plays in the open field coming in and delivering some big hits one-on-one out there.
So we just have a lot of guys who are playing fast, having fun and playing good team defense.
Q. We talked a lot already today about the road environment you'll see at Iowa on Saturday. Can you take us through the toughest road environments you saw last year and why this team is perhaps better equipped to handle that Saturday night?
BS: I think really, it just comes down to how we prepare each week.
I'm sure the coaches will have the speakers way up in practice this week for the offense, being able to communicate and make adjustments and things like that with noise. Whether they are really loud or a crowd that isn't that big and isn't that into a game, you know, each can have their own challenges, but we have our standard. We're just going to step up to the challenge and have our own energy, have our own standard, regardless of what the crowd is doing.
So you know, we look forward to playing out there. It's going to be fun. I'm sure it's going to be a great environment. I've never been to an Iowa game but you know, we have our standard and we are just going to go for that.
Q. You've talked about some of these things before, but you have a very different life than some football players; you're married. What is that like? How is life the same for you being married as a college player and how is it different in some ways?
BS: Obviously love my wife very much and she's a huge blessing to me and one of my biggest supporters. You know, obviously time's the biggest difference for me and my teammates.
Some guys can just go and sit by themselves or do whatever they need to do, but in fairness to my wife and because I want to be with her, that's just time with my wife. I have to get my work, my schoolwork done a little bit faster or maybe during the day instead of at night so I can be fair to her.
It's a challenge but it's definitely been worth it so far. She's a huge encouragement to me, so appreciate it.
Q. She was quoted in a story earlier this week that she's never really seen you get angry, and you're obviously a laid-back guy. How is your personality off the field versus when you have to get on the field and get fired up? How do you make that transition and would you have ever thought that you would be in this position here?
BS: Yeah, I definitely thought I'd be in this position or I wouldn't have come here. I just love this game. I don't have to get angry or anything like that to play hard and play fast.
I forget who it was last year, I think it was John Reid, he looked at me in the middle of one of our games, it was pretty close, and he's like, "I just love looking at you because whether we're winning by 50 points or losing by 20, you look the same and I can just trust that you're ready to go."
I have joy and I'm a content guy and I'm just going to give my best no matter what I'm doing and whether that involves football or personal life or school, I can take the same approach to each.
Q. For you guys playing here, it's loud and the other offense has to deal with the noise, and now you guys are going on the road and there won't be any noise when Iowa has the ball, and they can use whatever cadence they want. How does that affect the defense versus going up against a silent cadence or something like that?
BS: We really appreciate our fan base. It's electric playing in here. All of you have seen it firsthand. We had 109,000 people two weeks ago. So we fill that stadium up. It's amazing being able to play off of that energy and that noise and disrupting the other offense.
But this week, we're just going to have to focus on our own mentalities and bring our own energy, take care of what we can control, and you know, it will work out. Obviously the noise is a big help but we have our own job. We have our own standard and that's what we're going to have to go for this week.
Q. Starting off as a walk-on now, a senior, big role player, is there anything that you would have changed in your Penn State journey here?
BS: No. Whatever I've done, whatever I've been through, it's helped form who I am today. There are situations and circumstances I wouldn't change for the world and I've really loved my time here and had a lot of fun. I've made great friends that will last the rest of my life.
No, I wouldn't change anything. I feel like I've worked hard and I've prepared and I've done what I need to do to be successful. I've enjoyed it and not too much I would change.
Q. Studying to be a doctor, just where did that come from, that desire, and what do you ultimately hope to do? What kind of field would you want to go in, if that indeed is the way you go?
BS: I said it last year in this press conference, actually. I really value people and I value life, and I think I can really be a part of the solution in the health industry. I'm studying health policy and administration now, and just seeing from the other perspective, the administrative perspective, some of the problems our country is facing with healthcare. I think I could be a doctor who is part of the solution to that.
From what specialty or anything like that, I'm not sure. I kind of go back and forth. I've been able to shadow some doctors and everything I see is like amazing. So my opinion on that my change week-to-week, actually. You know, some of the things I've seen are orthopedics. I know a bariatrician; that kind of interests me from some personal background, just seeing the change in some people's lives like that.
I couldn't tell you for sure until probably four years from now when I'm trying to get into a residency. Hopefully I can get into medical school somewhere and start that process.
Brandon Polk | So. | Wide Receiver
Q. Can you talk about opening up the Big Ten season at Iowa?
BP: For us, opening at Iowa is going to be a challenge but that's a challenge that we're going to accept. I've heard that night games there are kind of crazy. But we've played at places kind of just like that and we've been able to just focus on us and just go out there and do what we need to do.
Q. After last year, being out with injury, how did it feel, you're getting out there, playing these meaningful snaps, scoring a touchdown? Take me through the touchdown catches, and how do you feel? And take me through the tandem celebration you had with Saquon after his big run, because it looked like you guys were having a little bit of fun there.
BP: Just being back, since being out last year, it's kind of fun. I'm enjoying every second of it, because it was taken away from me, due to injury. So I really missed it. So every time I'm out there, I'm playing like it's literally my last play.
And that celebration, I tell all the running backs, "If you get in open field, I'm coming to get you. I'm going to block for you."
I told him before the game, it's kind of funny. I was like, ‘I feel like this game, you're going to either catch or have some big run and I'm going to come get you,’ and that's why he kind of pointed. ‘We were pointing at each other; it's kind of like, "I told you," so kind of fun.
Q. What was that celebration, the swinging your arms?
BP: I saw him do it. So I was almost like, might as well just copy him and see how it goes. So that's kind of how that happened.
Q. On a more serious note, looked like you've done a really good job blocking this year. How much of a learning experience was that for you coming in? You're not the biggest guy in the world -- I don't mean that in an offensive way but how much pride do you take in what you've been able to do as a blocker?
BP: I take a lot of pride in that because I know the people out there who are blocking for me, they are going to give everything they can. I don't care -- they don't care how big, how small they are. They are going to give everything that they can.
So for me, even being a smaller guy, I'm going to give everything I can for them. And if I don't give them the best block, then I'm frustrated and mad at myself because I know that if they were put in that situation, they are going to do their best for me.
Q. How much of a learning experience was it coming from high school?
BP: Yeah, just coming from high school, I guess I didn't have to block that much and the guys weren't as big as what I'm going against right now. For me, it's just the heart. For blocking you have to want to do it. If you don't want to do it, then it's not going to get done.
Q. Does it take a while to get that mindset of you have to block, you have to want to block; does it take a while to set in?
BP: For me, I would say yes. For me, I'm not the biggest guy. So for me, it was like, ‘oh, how can I block him; he's 6-5, he's this.’ No, you have to have the want to, to do it. So it doesn't matter how small you are. If you want to do something, you can do it.
Q. Physically, how different are you are from when you came in weight-wise compared to how you were?
BP: I'm probably about 10 pounds bigger, but I feel stronger than when I came in here. So I feel like I can do a lot more blocking, running routes, just anything.
Q. And you mentioned high school a minute ago. We've heard so much about Trace McSorley and how schools were looking at him as a safety. What do you remember about Trace the safety in high school?
BP: I would say he was hard-hitting. I do remember that. I mean, just ball hawking, just always around the ball. He helped me out even when I was on offense, him telling me like, ‘Hey, look, you're doing this when you're running this route, or you're doing this; like I notice things like that,’ and just kind of helped me get better.
Q. Sticking with the blocking, do receivers look at other receivers to kind of learn how to block from them, and if so, what do you watch for and who do you like to look at?
BP: I wouldn't really say that I'm like watching other receivers block. It's kind of just a technique that they teach us in practice. Like the low man wins and hands inside; if you get them outside, replace them and get them back inside. That's kind of what I've been taught, so when I go on the field, I try to do my best to do that.
Q. Speaking of blocking, did you see Trace's block on the linebacker on Miles Sanders’ touchdown run on Saturday, and if you did, what did you think of his form?
BP: No, I did not see that. I'm sorry.
Q. Your lowest point last year, most difficult point sitting out? And describe what your training camp was like because I would have to assume it was pretty good. You're doing pretty well so far.
BP: Last year, with football being taken from me, it was kind of a wake-up call, as in like, ‘Oh, when you get out there, you need to do everything to the best of your ability.’
I can say last year, like sometimes I would be down and I would let that affect me, and it would go to other people. So for me, I kind of said, hey, our core value is positive attitude. I need to have a positive attitude through everything and that's what kind of helped me get through that period when I was at my lowest.
Obviously I did pretty well [in camp]. I tried to basically do all of the details, the small things, because the little things become big things when you don't address them at the beginning.
So kind of just with footwork, just weight, just knowing the offense, things like that, reading defenses. That's what I focused on, and I guess it's helped me.
Q. You scored your only other touchdown here at Penn State in October of 2015 against Indiana, that huge gap, obviously being out last year and everything. How nice was it and how good did it feel to get in the end zone after such a long gap between scores?
BP: It felt really good, to get in the end zone again. I mean, I'm happy with whoever gets in the end zone, as you can see. It doesn't really matter to me if it's me, someone else. I'm just excited to see, because I know the hard work we all put in. So for any one of us to get in there, I'm excited.
Q. Do you have more fun being the jet sweep guy or receiver guy?
BP: For me it doesn't really matter. Whatever way that I can help the team is how I see myself.
Q. Obviously we didn't see you much last year, so what's the biggest difference in your game from 2015 to now?
BP: I would say my route running. My freshman year, I came in here just kind of as the jet sweep guy, just running east, west and then getting north.
I feel like right now, I am the complete receiver versus when I came in here, I was just kind of the running guy. Like I couldn't really run routes very well. [Wide receivers] Coach [Josh] Gattis, just helped me become the person that he knows that I can become.
Q. You mentioned kind of the hardships of working through that redshirt year. Who helped you through that? Certain teammates that stand out?
BP: All the wide receivers in the room, and like my parents, they were all just telling me: Hey, you've got to keep your head up.
[DaeSean Hamilton] went through an injury when he first got here, so he kind of helped me through that. He was like, ‘look, this is what I did, I didn't let this stop me.’ So I would be in there watching film, and then especially just watching them play and be like, ‘oh, how can I use this to help me.’ So that's kind of what I did.
Q. Shot in the dark here on this one. Trace McSorley had a workout with [then-quarterbacks coach] Ricky Rahne back in high school when Vanderbilt offered him a scholarship. He said it was like an early morning workout, receivers were there. I'm wondering if you were one of the guys there catching passes for him or if you remember?
BP: I don't remember if I was there. It could have been before I got there.
Q. Outside of school and football, what's your biggest passion in life and what are your aspirations once your playing career is over?
BP: My biggest passion, I like XBox. I like to play FIFA. So that's kind of what I do. Excited for it to come out next week, so that's what I'll be doing on Monday.
After this, I want to go to law school. My dad's a lawyer. I enjoy what he does and like the lifestyle that he lives. That's what I want to do. My mom is also a lawyer, works in patent law. That's kind of where I see myself after football ends.
Q. KJ Hamler seems to have a lot of your type of skills. How much of a mentor are you trying to be to him?
BP: JK is coming along really well. He literally looks like me when I first got in here, so I like tell him things, things that I did wrong when I first got here and the things that I did right and what I would suggest for him. He's coming along really well.
Q. Was law school kind of always in the plans or was that something in the last year or two?
BP: It just kind of came up recently. My major is criminology, and I got into that by watching Law and Order and I said, "That's what I want to do."
My dad said, "well, that's not really a real job." (Laughter). "You're not going to get anything like that."
I was looking around for things and then my dad was making a company and I was just asking him about, "Like what do you do?" So I sat down with him and kind of talked to him, and I said, "That sounds like something I'd want to do." So that's kind of how I got into wanting to go to law school.